Category Archives: disco funk

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Tokyo Joe” by Bryan Ferry

Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music were something that I only began to explore within the 2010’s. Henrique Hopkins and myself have discussed Bryan/Roxy a great deal. And these conversations have tended to emphasize their unique place on the rock scene. My personal feeling from all this talking and listening was that Roxy were British glam rock’s answer to Steely Dan. Their songs rhythmic and melodic structures were based more in contemporary  soul and funk than allusions to amplified blues. And this was reflected in their visual attitude,which in the end comes down to Ferry.

There was somewhat of a choice to be made in terms of writing this article. Whether or not to overview a Roxy Music classic such as “Love Is The Drug”,or focus on Bryan Ferry’s solo career. Both Roxy and Ferry alone have their fair share of sleek grooves to choose from. Both from the 70’s and 80’s. In the end,seemed best to focus on Ferry as a solo artist. His initial solo career ran concurrent with Roxy Music’s first run. These albums consisted primarily of cover material. His first solo album of all original material In Your Mind contained a fantastic example of Ferry’s groove in “Tokyo Joe”.

A gong like cymbal opens up the song. The intro consists of a processed keyboard melody in close unison with plucked orchestral strings. All to the best of a swinging,hi hat heavy drum rhythm. After that the orchestra begin flat out playing the same melody-assisted by some rhythmic fuzz guitar. The rhythm then falls into a heavy 4/4 disco beat with the fuzz guitar,strings and several layers of keyboards (including what sounds like a Clavinet) playing deep inside the groove. On the choruses,the plucked strings of the intro return before the refrain closes out the song with the same gong like cymbal from the intro.

Its been awhile since I’ve really given this song a listen all the way through. But with the keyboards,drums and guitar delving so deeply into the groove,”Tokyo Joe” really showcases all the special qualities about the Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music sound. Ferry’s sleek,somewhat adenoidal vocal croon adds its distinctive character to this groove. Being from the final two Bryan Ferry solo albums of the 70’s,this song and others in a similar vein help write the musical map for what was to occur on Roxy Music’s three following comeback albums-from 1979’s Manifesto to 1982’s Avalon.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Bryan Ferry, disco funk, drums, funk rock, fuzz guitar, keyboards, Roxy Music, strings, UK Funk

Off The Wall At 37: The Album That Forever Changed Michael Jackson’s Career

MJ Off The Wall

Yesterday,Michael Jackson’s 1979 album Off The Wall celebrated its 30th anniversary. The album was reissued on CD with its full cover art for the first time in the new millennium in the US. A special bonus edition also features Spike Lee’s documentary film ‘Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown To Off The Wall’. Personally I’ve come to view Off The Wall this way: the people who love MJ’s most musical aspects love this album,whereas those who appreciate him more as a commercial phenomenon showcase his finest album as being 1982’s Thriller.

Before 1979,Michael Jackson was mainly the charismatic lead singer for The Jackson 5/Jacksons. He had a four album solo career on Motown in the early/mid 70’s too. Still,that album was very much connected to the music he was doing with his brothers. It was becoming more apparent as he grew that he would again have a solo career. Not sure if anyone anticipate that after 1979,MJ would become the Sammy Davis Jr. of his day-only one where the post civil rights era really allowed him to shine more as performer. On that musical level,here’s the content of a review I wrote about it six years ago.


In terms of someone like Michael Jackson,different phases of his career will impact on people differently. For some reason this album pretty much locks into my own brain as his general peak of his career. Despite the record breaking success he’d have in the 80’s,this album stands as one that says the most about his musical character. We all know the history. Mike meets up with Quincy Jones during the production of [[ASIN:B000XUOLNO The Wiz]],they begin recording this album with the help of some of the biggest musicians and songwriters of the era and so begins a new chapter for him.

No longer would Mike’s solo career be an adjunct to that of his brothers. And while still a functional member of The Jacksons at the time of this recording,his own self identity was being developed here as well. This album has some very unique hallmarks. It’s heavy on production but musically focused. It’s sophistifunk of the highest degree but heavier on the funk than the sophistication. Most important,pop considerations are very important here but Mike is not yet defining himself as the King Of Pop.

“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”,which despite may hearings flaunts it’s obvious late 70’s Barry White influence heavily couldn’t be a better way to start this album.”Rock With You” of course owes it’s grooving sleekness in part to Rufus’ Bobby Watson’s fluid bass line as much as it does to Mike’s elastic vocal. Now “Working Day And Night” is one of the most inspired and strong minded funk jams Mike ever made. He’d never quite got on the one in the same way before or after this.

“Get On The Floor” and the title song both work the disco floor,the former heavier on the funk end and the latter more on the urban dance side moving to the post disco era a bit more. Over the years I always say his cover of McCartney’s “Girlfriend” as a week link but it’s a vital straight ahead pop piece with some modern R&B/funk production elements for a little spiciness. “She’s Out Of My Life”,a very sad ballad Mike actually cannot keep a dry eye to himself is a rich interpretation of an orchestral,non rhythmic ballad.

Of course to my ears the finest ballad tune here is the more mid tempo “I Can’t Help It” from Stevie Wonder-featuring both Wonder’s unique way with chord progressions and electronics that Mike takes to maximum vocal effect. “It’s The Falling In Love”,a mid tempo pop/soul type duet with Patti Austin comes to “Burn This Disco Out”,a steamy horn funk closer finding Mike throwing down his best and underused bass vocals.

There are many people who to this day contest that this is Michael Jacksons finest solo album for a musical perspective. And I cannot say there isn’t a point there. Something about the music he made with and without his brothers circa 1978-1981 had a certain flavor to it that I don’t honestly think he ever fully recaptured. This period,culminating in a way with this and The Jacksons [[ASIN:B001BKMC9K Triumph]],recorded around the same time but released the following year, really allowed Mike to fully take command in interpreting  his own compositions

But it also let him be the most involved with the creative environment provided via Quincy Jones and his engineer Bruce Swedien. This wasn’t a Michael Jackson who wasn’t very concerned about breaking records,media attention,adulation of fans or indulging in potentially scandalous behavior. This WAS a Michael Jackson who had matured into adulthood creatively. And on that front was in a similarly energized state as he was a decade earlier when the J5 first debut for Motown. As such this album is as much as the conclusion of something as it was a new beginning. And that enthusiastic quality drips from every pore of the music you’ll find here.


Off The Wall  winds up being one of those albums where one’s perception of it evolves with time. Its instantly lovable,especially for any funk and post disco enthusiast. Considering the artist itself and the primary bass player here Louis Johnson aren’t with us anymore,I now look at the album this way. It represents the era when each Michael Jackson/Jacksons album was distinctly different. This album really prioritized live strings,horns and a rhythm section. The same personnel also produced the more electronic boogie sounding number “Sunset Driver” for this session. Shows just how distinctive MJ hoped this to be.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Bobby Watson, Bruce Swedien, classic albums, disco funk, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Off The Wall, post disco, Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton, Spike Lee

Phyllis Hyman Double Feature

Phyllis Hyman

Phyllis Hyman comes across as someone with a strong creative ethic. She was a strong soul/gospel/jazz vocal powerhouse,not to mention an attractive,stylish 6′ tall physical presence. The arc of her life somewhat resembled Whitney Houston’s however,aside from the fact Hyman lack Houston’s family musical pedigree. Hyman’s adult life was marred by romantic woes,mental illness and addiction problems. This led to Hyman’s tragic suicide in 1995 before she ever saw her 50th birthday.  Still her music still connects with soul/funk music lovers with its spectrum of joy and pain.

After watching some of TV One’s series Unsung‘s episode about Hyman,it fairly quickly became apparent that throughout her recording career,record producers and songwriters simply didn’t know how to handle her voice. This tends to be a reoccurring theme with vocalists who are not in complete creative control of their songwriting and production. Her time in the late 70’s and early 80’s at Arista Records didn’t seem to be her happiest,as she and label head Clive Davis often clashed. Yet the two CD’s I have by her are her most commercially successful for the label. So I am going to overview them here today.

You Know How To Love Me/1979

Of course cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard Phyllis Hyman’s name dropped. And of course how little I’d actually heard of her. Well I blame myself. No good reason. I had this idea in my head she was primarily a balladeer. And there seemed to be a dime a dozen of those out there. Kind of the old idea about uptempo tunes dating fasted and slower ones being more timeless.

Well either way I must say that after hearing this album,I must say Phyllis was possessed of a vocal instrument defined by both great confidence and vulnerability. Now tonally? She’s a soul belter out of the blues/gospel school of singing. And her voice has a nice raspy huskiness to it that is actually quite appealing. Produced by James Mtume and Reggie Lucas I’d actually highly recommend this album as a possible first Phyllis Hyman album. There are reasons.

Two of those reasons right off the bat are the title song and “You’re The One”,both seriously intense gospel fueled Philly type danceable soul perfect for the disco floor and will have you singing to yourself with the same firey and intelligent tone as Phyllis herself. Of course there are two slower grooves here that blow me away too “Some May” and “Give A Little More” both find Hyman’s experienced voice working it’s way through some choppy sophistifunk type grooves.

On “Complete Me” it turns to this flat out epic type gospel/soul ballad type thing,the sort of sound I suppose I always associated with Phyllis. “But I Love You” has this tense and rather fanfare based disco-dance sound while the only song really bound by the era might be “Heavenly”. However nothing to worry about for the discophobes because even for them Phyllis gives it her all as she does throughout.

In the end the impression I get from Phyllis Hyman here is that she seems to function best as an album artist. Her vocal style has a need to stretch itself throughout the spectrum of soul musics sub-genres. And it’s a much wider spectrum than people think. Even within each off shoot of the music. There’s music here that has the ability the impact on fans of Philly soul,disco dancing and even foot stomping funk fans.

True it’s as bubbly and sophisticated a production as good champagne is to the taste. On the other hand every sound here serves to emphasize the talent whose getting the most credit. The participation of the Mtume band didn’t do any harm either. This was a recording oriented around a group of people with unique and special talent. And in this case,they got something extremely special out of Phyllis Hyman. So even if she’s not with us anymore,there’ll always be records like this.

Can’t We Fall In Love Again/1981

Admittedly I’m a bit late entering into the musical world of the late Phyllis Hyman. At this point? I actually only have two of her albums. She was one of those vocalists who moved between the worlds of jazz and funky soul. And always having an extremely talented bevy of instrumentalists at her disposal courtesy of her producer and original musical paramour Norman Connors.

Her entire creative approach matches up to the very qualities that have continually created some of the most dynamic and stunning music in the funk/soul/jazz/R&B spectrum. This 1981 album was her first of that particular decade. And upon locating it on CD? Picked it up without hesitation. Absolutely no regrets.

“You Sure Look Good To Me” is an extremely melodic horn and upbeat synthesizer based pop/boogie funk/post disco number-like a harder edged variation of the sound Richard Perry was then getting with the Pointer Sisters. The title song is a dynamic,Thom Bell like electric sitar led mid tempo love song duet between Hyman and the rich voiced baritone singer/bass player Michael Henderson.

“Don’t Tell Me,Tell Her” is a high stepping horn and slap bass Brazilian funk jam while “I Ain’t Asking” is an assertively romantic number from Ashford & Simpson-with their classic piano heavy and melodic early 80’s gospel/soul/funk style.

“The Love Too Good To Last” and “The Sunshine In My Life” are polished up,medium tempo pop/soul ballads while “Tonight You And Me” as a mixture of that Afro-Latin style drum and bass keyboard chorus of The Jackson’s “Shake Your Body” with a powerful post disco/funk/soul refrain. “Just Another Face In The Crowd” is a melodically epic slow pop ballad to conclude the album.

Well this is one of those albums where all eight songs are uniformly excellent,superbly produced and played on. Hyman herself provides the gospel/soul vocal phrasings of a jazzier and ballsier Dionne Warwick. At least to me anyway,and with an incredibly slippery and husky range as well. For lovers of early 80’s funk/soul music that’s powerfully performed and filled with a jazzy flavor? This might just be an album for you!


Phyllis Hyman offered us some fantastic soulful music. She also lived with bipolar disorder. And this possibly motivated her to end her life prematurely. For more information on bipolar disorder,or feel you may have it yourself,please go to the website below. Life is worth living!

National Alliance on Mental Illness’s Page On Bipolar Disorder

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Amazon.com, Arista Records, Ashford & Simpson, ballads, Clive Davis, disco funk, James Mtume, Michael Henderson, Music Reviewing, Phyllis Hyman, Reggie Lucas, soul singers, Uncategorized

Heatwave Holiday: A Summer Celebration Of A Band Too Hot To Handle

Heatwave 1978

Heatwave are a band that remind me of summertime perhaps even more than the Beach Boys do. I’ve told the story over and over of being introduced to the bands second album from 1978 Central Heating at the family summer camp during hot early 1990’s summers on 8-track tape. Sometimes,you can be very euphoric about a band’s music in the beginning. But as time goes on,the luster wears off. That’s never happened with Heatwave for me. Each time listening to them,I get something different. Much as with James Brown’s music,each listening to Heatwaves albums have me hearing things I never heard before.

2016 marks the 10th anniversary of Heatwave founder Johnnie Wilder Jr’s passing away. He was the co-founder,heart and soul of the band. And along with Rod Temperton,he helped write man songs for them as well as singing most of them. As Independence Day is on the way-with immigration is a hot topic this hot summer election year,Heatwave remind me of a wonderful cross continental American musical spirit-with members from the UK,Switzerland and the Czech Republic as well as Dayton,Ohio. So I’d like to present my favorite Heatwave jams that showcases Wilder’s amazing lead vocals!

“Ain’t No Half Steppin”/1976

It surprised me to hear such a raw live instrumental funk number from a band I’d always associated with studio slickness. But with it’s Jimmy Nolan style guitar and Wilder’s low leads and falsetto harmony vocals,this songs percussion break might possibly have also inspired Soul II Soul’s 1988 smash “Back To Life”-showcasing how one UK based live funk success could inspired one from a whole other era.

“Always And Forever”/1976

From my understanding,Johnnie Wilder’s iconic lead vocals on this classic slow jam were recorded live in a single take. The band wanted the vocal freedom Wilder would have in their live shows. And this song truly bought the stage to the studio-with  Wilder’s soulful extravaganza of vocal cries across his range talking up the entire last half of the song. It has as slow a tempo as a song could have. But it’s straight up gospel energy bursts with boundless musical magnetism.

“Put The Word Out”/1978

The intensely processed Brazilian drum breaks,percussion and atmospheric strings of the intro on this Rod Temperton song is truly an instrumental spectacle for the ears to behold. Then the rhythm guitar and bass get going with Wilder giving it his all on this melodic,harmony laden uptempo disco/funk marvel.

“The Star Of A Story”/1978

The ultra low strings,Brazilian guitar flourishes,the processed Fender Rhodes piano along with Wilder’s cosmic falsetto vocal turns showcase how amazing Temperton and Wilder’s sense of musicality was when working in close concert. This is my favorite Heatwave ballad and another technical marvel of sound and production. George Benson even interpreted this three years later-showcasing the strength this song had to a guitarist who sang too.

“Raise A Blaze”/1979

Heatwave’s third album in 1979’s Hot Property used to be one of the most obscure albums to find while crate digging. Produced by Phil Ramone,Johnnie Wilder really got a chance to shine on the bass/guitar heavy dance funk delight of this song. Again,it showcases much compositional power and energy Heatwave put in their uptempo tunes.

“Turn Around”/1980

This is one of those arrangements where the strings and horns really let the bass/guitar interaction shine as the main thrust of the rhythm. Much like Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You”, this is one of those deep soul/funk grooves whose slinky,stripped down rhythm section can fool the listener into thinking its actually a ballad. As always,Wilder shines on the vocal leads and harmonies.

“Posin’ ‘Til Closin”/1980

Something about this Temperton song,with it’s bass/guitar heavy rhythms and witty lyrical storytelling,reminds me of something from the Chic Organization from this time period. Wilder singing the line “she’s a TV star/she watches all the shows/had a face like Farrah Fawcett since they corrected her nose/that’s the way it goes” never ceases to make me giggle and hum along to this catchy disco classic.

“Find It In Your Heart”/1982

Heatwave’s 1982 album Current is probably their most underrated album-with it’s ultra glossy production,top notch compositions and aurally electric synthesizer use. This mid tempo,urban contemporary sort of funk has a strong bass/guitar part and some of Wilder’s finest vocals ever. Has a flavor similar to early Luther Vandross solo material.


Of course there are many more Heatwave songs I could go on about for many other write ups. And am intending to do just that. This particular list of Heatwave songs merely emphasizes my favorites that involving the participation of Johnnie Wilder. While there’s a lot of focus on uptempo funk and disco here,Wilder had a tremendous talent to pack a vocal punch on powerfully arranged slow jams as well. Being that listening to Heatwave will likely lead the listener to seek out George Benson,Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson albums from that same era out,turn up their music for a sizzling summer groove!

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Brazilian Jazz, disco funk, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Heatwave, Johnnie Wilder Jr., percussion, Phil Ramone, rhythm guitar, Rod Temperton

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Goin’ Crazy” by Heatwave

Heatwave might be my personal favorite  of the classic Dayton,Ohio funk bands. Difficult to be too objective about that. Interesting thing is,they represented a cross continental group-many of whom derived from Europe.  The band sadly had very little recording longevity and a whole lot of bad breaks. But the five albums they recorded from 1977 to 1982 were all such well produced,well played on and well written funk/disco delights.  The groups central composer was Rod Temperton. But the heart and soul of the band rose and fell along with their late lead singer/composer Johnnie Wilder Jr.

Wilder showed a great respect for good musicianship,good grooves and good melodies. It would also seem he ran Heatwave in a very paternalistic manner too. Apparently even deciding that members couldn’t get married-due to possible interference in the bands dynamic. With all the great funky dance hits Heatwave had, a 1979 car crash left Wilder a paraplegic and unable for perform for some time. While he began recuperating,Wilder was succeeded by future Commodore JD Nichols on the bands 1980 album Candles. Wilder composed one of my favorite jams on the album entitled “Goin’ Crazy”.

Heatwave’s keyboardist Calvin Duke begins the song with multi layered lead and bass Clavinet riffs-playing in staccato to three note riffs from the Fender Rhodes piano. On the choruses the drums kick in-ably accented by the highly prolific session master Paulinho Da Costa. Derek Bramble’s bass pops hard alongside Ernest Berger’s steady 4/4 beat and Duke’s high synth melody. On each refrain,the focus returns to Duke’s Clavinet solos. On the bridge,that Clainvet powers everything from climactic strings to the stop/start horn and Rhodes breaks that eventually bring the groove to a cold start.

This jam has that rare mix of professional studio sleekness  and raw instrumental power. Heatwave are a tight unit on this song-with Calvin Duke,Da Costa and Johnnie’s brother Keith holding down the vocal fort on the refrains with his percussive “let’s clap,let’s clap”. The two types of electric piano used here are left the most raw-with the piano like tones of the Clavinet and melodic Rhodes really giving the song much of it’s instrumental power. It’s finely composed arrangement and funky danceability make this a fine example of why Heatwave threw down some of the most amazing disco era funk.

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Filed under 1980's, Calvin Duke, clavinet, Derek Bramble, disco funk, drums, Ernest Berger, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, Heatwave, Johnnie Wilder Jr., Keith Wilder, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, post disco, Rod Temperton, strings, synthesizer

Grooves On Wax: Summer Day Funk Spinning Under The Needle

Quincy+Jones+Walking+In+Space+474802

Quincy Jones has always had a way of gearing people up for new directions in black American music . My friend Henrique and I were talking while I had this vinyl going about how much Q’s take on the title track,originally from the Broadway musical Hair got on the same head trip electric jazz flavor that Miles Davis was on with albums like Bitches Brew. Again as Henrique pointed out,this was more tightly arranged. And at home on an album with a swinging soul jazz vibe about it all.

Key Jams: “Walking In Space” and “Killer Joe”

Al Wilson

Al Wilson’s 1969 debut album was recommended to me by Don Menninghaus,owner and proprietor of the local record haunt in the Bangor,Maine area Dr. Records. This Mississippi native had a unique blend of jazzy vocalizing and Southern style gospel/soul. The song that Mr. Menninghaus bought out on this album was “The Snake”,an uptempo version of a cautionary romantic number I originally heard sung in an episode of the TV show Northern Exposure. Al’s version here is of course from a whole other place.

Key Jams: “The Snake” and “Brother Where Are You”

the-main-ingredient-tasteful-soul-5932699-1447948027

It was the soul food depicted on the cover of this album that got my attention most actually. Of course this is the Main Ingredient,a Harlem trio who always had the ability to bring out the heavy groove in with their lush three part “cool group” harmonies.  They took ballads into the stratosphere that way. But when the tempo went up,so it went to the next level on albums such as 1970’s Tasteful Soul here.

Key Jams: “Need Her Love (Mr Bugler)” and “Magic Shoes”

Deodato Airto in concert

Eumir Deodato and Airto Moreira’s 1973 concert album from their show at Madison Square Garden is one of the most exciting live albums I’ve ever heard. Especially when it comes to the second half-dominated by Airto’s percussively powerful Afro-Brazilian jazz funk jams on the second half of the record. Deodato gets seriously funky on this album as well.

Key Jams: “Tropea” and “Parana” 

george-benson-good-king-bad

George Benson’s 1975 soundtrack to the film Good King Bad was the final album that Benson recorded for the CTI label. The outer sleeve of my vinyl version is in such poor shape,someone patched it up with Scotch tape. The condition of the actual vinyl however is good enough for the powerful sonics of album to shine through. James Brown’s keyboardist David Matthews arranged this album to be one of the best recorded examples of cinematic jazz/funk of the mid 70’s

Key Jams: “Em” and “Theme From Good King Bad”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now that I’ve explored Barry White more in a musical context than his typical thematic one,its more clear that some of his melodic string arrangements of the 1970’s could get a bit samey with time. And this 1975 Love Unlimited Orchestra album is no exception. Yet when the funky groove burns underneath his sometimes stock type orchestrations,the cinematic jams really burst out at you.

Key Jams: “I Wanna Stay” and “Midnight Groove”

 

Deniece Williams Songbird

Deniece Williams’ first two albums on Columbia were as strong an adjunct to Maurice White and Earth Wind & Fire. ‘Niecy’s 1977 sophomore album here features most of the EWF crew in both the production area-thinking more of playing behind a vocalist as opposed to be instrumentalists with vocalists. They really help her increase her range too-from harder funk to reggae and more elaborate jazzy arrangements.

Key Jams: “Time”,“Be Good To Me” and “The Paper”

Sylvester Sell My Soul

Sylvester’s powerful vocals were musically molded by the same man who gave Marvin Gaye his start-Mister Harvey Fuqua. This was his first album of the 1980’s. It deals with a transition from the gospel drenched Hi NRG disco sound Sylvester specialized in during the late 70’s and towards a far funkier post disco sound. This especially comes to mind when he was acting as an interpreter as well.

Key Jams: “Change Up” and “Fever”

change-sharingyourlove(1)

Change really had me going with their post disco sound of the early 80’s upon first hearing their 1980 debut album The Glow of Love. This 1982 album featured this group being produced in a very different direction-one that emphasized a harder boogie funk sound. Not to mention a more stable and distinctive group lineup as well.

Key Jams :“Hard Times (It’s Gonna Be Alright)” and “Take You To Heaven”

Ronnie Laws Mr Nice Guy

Ronnie Laws is basically the sax version of George Benson in terms of his ability to play and sing. While he obviously isn’t quite as distinctive (or virtuosic) on either level as Benson,his instrumental and vocal style have that amiable big brother type attitude that translates well across each album. On this set,he began to add more synth horns and new wave style instrumentation into his general mix. But his love of classic R&B shuffles and funky grooves remained fully intact.

Key Jam: “Can’t Save Tomorrow” 

Phyllis Hyman Living All Alone

Phyllis Hyman seems to have had a quality similar to Anita Baker and Chaka Khan. No matter what era she recorded in,if the song was a slow ballad for fast funk or disco, Hyman’s music never ceased to endow full albums with anything less than first rate musical content. This 1986 album is a latter day Gamble & Huff production-a classy mixture of jazzy urban contemporary soul with some serious funk in their for good measure.

Key Jams: “If You Want Me” and “Screamin’ At The Moon”

Morris_Daydreaming

Morris Day’s second solo album from 1988 features a somewhat more pop oriented type of dance funk than his old group The Time had. Again though,the man has a knack with both uptempo tunes and ballads-especially featuring the piano work of Herb Alpert alumni Salvatore Macaluso on side 1’st closing torch ballad “A Mans Pride”.

Key Jam: “Fishnet”

 

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Filed under 1980's, Airto Moreira, Al Wilson, Barry White, Change, cinematic soul, Deniece Williams, disco funk, elecro funk, Eumir Deodato, Funk, George Benson, jazz funk, Morris Day, Phyllis Hyman, Quincy Jones, Ronnie Laws, Sylvester, The Main Ingredient, Vinyl

Grooves On Wax: Funky Music Spinning On A Rough Week

Up Pops Ramsey Lewis

This is the first in a series exploring the vinyl records I’m spinning on my turntable. Often at the very same time these articles are being shared with the online community of soul funkateers who support this blog. This first on today’s list is the 1967 album Up Pops Ramsey Lewis.  It was during the period when Maurice White was the drummer in the band and is super heavy funk process soul jazz straight out of Chi-town.

Key jam: “Party Time”

Changing Times

Frank Wilson takes the Four Tops in a grand cinematic soul direction on this 1970 album. It was changing times for Motown,moving out to the West Coast when this was recorded. And it was changing times for America 60’s had just come to an end. The Tops mixed covers and originals here in a strong song cycle across two sides of the record!

Key Jams: “These Changing Times” and “Try To Remember”

Bautista

Roland Bautista was Earth Wind & Fire’s supplicant lead guitarist-both preceding and succeeding Al McKany in 1972 and 1981 respectively. In between that time,he recorded two albums as a leader. This is his first from 1977. It’s a wonderful mixture of funk,Latin rock and jazz fusion.

Key Jam: “Diggin’ It In”

Slick

Eddie Kendricks’ final album for Motown in 1977 finds the former Temptation  really getting into the grooves with ballads and uptempo songs bring that big band R&B/jazz flavor out in the type of melodies that Motown’s king of falsetto loved so well.

Key Jams: “Intimate Friends” and “California Woman”

Brasil 88

Sergio Mendes followed on his New Brasil 77 with a new idea the following year. Some years ago,this album cover lured me in. Not only was it a happy find on vinyl,but the fact it contained two ticket stubs to one of his concerts from 1978 was more than the icing on the cake for this bright and slick Brazilian pop jazz set.

Key Jam: “Tiro Cruzado (Crossfire)”

feel the phuff

Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds got his first band big with this Indianapolis band after a stint with Bootsy Collins,who apparently gave him the Babyface name to start with. Manchild had a very adventurous funk/blues/rock flair,not to mention a few potently arranged ballads. Edmonds really ripped on the rocking guitar solos here Ernie Isley style too on the bands 1978 sophomore set.

Key Jams: “The Phuff” and “Rowdy-Dowdy Blues”

Summertime Groove

Hamilton Bohannon,former Motown session drummer and member of Stevie Wonder’s late 60’s band, gives the drums the extreme funky workout on “Let’s Start The Dance” to get this party started. But it doesn’t stop there. Especially on the uptempo songs,the songs have a heavy and funky danceability with a distinctive kind of focus on the funky drummer himself.

Key Jams: “Summertime Groove” and “Let’s Star The Dance”

minnie_riperton_love_lives_forever

Minnie Riperton’s posthumously released final album from 1980 is a sleek,jazzy affair. Plenty of West Coast style light funk and soulful pop well suited for Minnie’s amazing range. She recorded the vocals for the this song in 1977 while people such as Greg Phillinganes,Harvey Mason,Lee Ritenour,Paulinho Da Costa,George Benson,Tom Scott,Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder helped to complete the music for this as produced by her widower Richard Rudolph.

Key Jams: “Strange Affair” and “Island In The Sun”

Learning To Love

Rodney Franklin is one of the more unheralded jazz-funk keyboard player so late 70’s and early 80’s. Known primarily as the composer and performer of the TV theme song Hill Street Blues,his 1982 album Learning To Love goes from slick,liquid pop/funk songs to exploratory fusion funk/jazz improvisations.

Key Jam: “Enuff Is Enuff”

Game Of Life

T-Connection keep getting better to my ears. And loved their grooves the first time I heard them years ago. This Nassau band really impressed me with a copy of their 1983 album The Game Of Life that I found at my local record store Bull Moose. This is a fine example of melodic,well composed boogie funk. With a jazz Afrocentric twist of course. It even delivered a “people music” message song right off the bat with the title song as well!

Key Jams: “The Game Of Life” and “I’ve Got News For You”

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Babyface, Bohannon, Boogie Funk, Brazilian Jazz, disco funk, Eddie Kendricks, Four Tops, jazz funk, Latin Funk, Manchild, Minnie Riperton, Motown, Ramsey Lewis, record collecting, Rodney Franklin, Roland Bautista, Sergio Mendes, soul jazz, T-Connection, Vinyl

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Show Must Go On” by The Four Tops

The Four Tops have always represented the ultimate human success of Motown. From before they signed with Berry Gordy’s now famous record label in the early days to the day lead singer Levi Stubbs passed on in 2008,the vocal quartet were an example of enduring together through the good and not so good times. Until each member died,the Four Tops never had a change in lineup. This might’ve lead to their longevity as hit makers too. With post Motown smashes such as “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got)” and the Top 10 R&B smash hit in the Philly inspired uptempo number “Catfish” in 1976.

It was around 1995 or so that I began exploring Motown acts beyond their reputation as “hitsville”. One day during that summer I was visiting an antique store with my family. And they had a selection of used vinyl. Among them were two ABC lable era Four Tops album in 1976’s Catfish and it’s followup from the next year entitled The Show Must Go On. Both of these records were filled with singable and highly danceable songs. Played both to the degree that they’re both new fairly scratchy. The song that’s continued to endure so strongly for me is the title song from the 1977 album The Show Must Go On.

A dramatic,descending horn fanfare opens up the song-just before the accompanying strings and hard swinging 4/4 drum beats kick in to the tune of a jazzy three by three not bass line. On the refrain of the song,Stubb’s customarily powerful voice thunders in with a highly rhythmic piano,Clavinet and and pumping disco bass propel the groove forward. The intro appears as a buffer between each refrain-only with a vocal part. The bridge of the song strips down to the drums,slapping bass and Clavinet before slowly building the horns and strings back into the musical conversation before it fades away.

With group member Lawrence Payton helping out with the arranging on this song, it’s right up there with some of the finest Philly style funky disco records of the mid to late 1970’s. The strings,horns and other instrumental sweeteners have a strong power that draws the listener into the intensely powerful rhythm section. The rhythmic Clavinet on this song is a funkified beast all of it’s own-played so low and so heavily it almost sounds like genuine percussion. As time had marched on,my appreciation for this groove after learning so much about what goes into creating music has only increased!

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, clavinet, disco funk, drums, Four Tops, horns, Lawrence Payton, Levi Stubbs, Philly Soul, piano, slap bass, strings

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Galaxy” by War

War had an excellent creative and commercial run in the early to mid 70’s. From “Slippin’ Into Darkness” up through “Low Rider”,this LA band had a very full and interested audience. The funk/soul audience were wrapped up in them,many jazz folks admired their musicianship and the rockers enjoyed their hard driving sound. Having caught onto a similar kind of Latin funk/rock vibe of bands such as Mandrill and Santana,War completed a triad that represented the strongest end of Afro-Cuban based percussive sounds within the funk,soul and rock spectrum of music in their heyday.

By the time 1977 rolled around,the Afro-Latin sound that War had helped pioneer had become part of another sound. This was the middle of the disco era. And dance music built on the four on the floor dance beats often had this percussive style as an integral element to the rhythm. Saxophonist and flutist Charles W. Miller was murdered tragically 36 years ago. But today was the day of his birth in 1939. He was a key participant in writing a song that really helped to keep War vital as the musical tide was changing. And that song was the title track to the bands 1977 album  Galaxy.

Laser-like space funk synthesizers start out the song. This serves as an instrumental wind to blow in the storm. First the light drumming,the five not bass thump and then the walk up piano. Than the 4/4 drums kick into high gear. On each vocal chorus,the band chant “it’s out of sight,it’s gone” to the tune of Miller Lee Oskar’s clarinet/harmonica unison. This pattern continues throughout a few refrains. Than the space funk synths come back in backing up tingling percussion with a full on piano walk up solo. For the finale of the song,Miller plays a solo on clarinet over the same rhythmic bed as the song fades out.

  1. “Galaxy” is one of my favorite War songs of all time. The song begins with a 3-4 minute segment that could be easily extended for play by disco DJ’s,with it’s insistent dance beat. Yet War’s polyrhythmic Latin funk attitude remains as hot and heavy as it always was during the 1970’s.  As it appears on the album,it’s one of their most conceptually interesting. Likely inspired by one of the battle scenes from Star Wars,  the space funk synthesizer orchestrating the song serve up some seriously jazzy solo by the end of the album version of the song. This makes it all out to be one of War’s funkiest moments.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Charles W. Miller, disco funk, Funk Bass, Galaxy, jazz funk, Latin Funk, Lee Oskar, percussion, piano, Saxophone, space funk, synthesizers, War

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Dance America” by Charles Earland

Charles Earland passed away 17 years ago this year. He was yet another Philly based musician in this most musically soulful city of brotherly love. Now he was a composer and sax player,but his primary contribution was as a organist/keyboard player. He started out backing up Jimmy McGriff in his late teens. After similar stints with Pat Martino and Lou Donaldson,Earland struck out on his own. His career as a leader began primarily in the hard bop/soul jazz idiom. Of course being of the American generation known as Silent,it wasn’t long before his music grew into full blown funkiness.

In 1978,Earland recorded an album entitled Perceptions.  The album focused heavily on the writing,production and occasional keyboard support of Randy Muller. Muller had headed up the Brooklyn based proto disco funk band Brass Construction. As well as being the mastermind behind the boogie funk sensations Skyy. Muller’s “Let The Music Play” actually got Earland a lot of disco/club action-keeping the funky dancers moving during the late 70’s. There’s another song from this album I just heard,and it just about blew my mind. The name of this jam is “Dance America”.

Skyy’s Anibal “Butch” Sierra revs up the deep rhythm guitar hard before the main groove kicks in. This main groove consists of a thick percussion accents supporting the upfront funky drumming. Earland’s Clavinet,a bass line that’s in the “Brick House” style school and Sierra’s processed rocking guitar all provide phat melodic AND rhythmic support all at once. The snare hits hard on the chorus-which is accented by a heavy space funk synth. The bridge features some hot horn charts. Then Earland begins rapping JB style about the different cities he and band intend to do their dance in before the song fades out.

“Dance America” sounds like one of the heaviest funk stomps to throw down during the height of the disco era. Backed up vocally and instrumentally  by members of Skyy along with Earland’s band, this also delivers on some of the driving hard rock guitar solo flavor that bands such as the Isley Brothers and the teenage newcomers Slave were doing around this time. Earland’s growling enthusiasm on the rap that closes out the song not only adds to the funkiness of the song, but is part of what defines it. It’s a monster jam of an example for that musically collaborative spirit at the very core of funky music!

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Anibal "Butch" Sierra, Charles Earland, clavinet, disco funk, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, percussion, Randy Muller, rock guitar, Skyy, synthesizer, Uncategorized